LEGO® Blocks and Lessons in Sustainability
I bet many of you spent time playing with LEGO® blocks as youngsters. I know I did – carefully crafting airplanes, castles, robots, speedboats. I would venture a guess that most of the LEGO® blocks we used back then are still around today – stored away, handed down, donated to a thrift store for someone else to enjoy. Those things are basically indestructible – and infinitely enjoyable!
But imagine if every time someone constructed a LEGO® creation – they threw it in the trash. Seems ridiculous, right? Because those blocks are designed to be used over and over and over again. I can take a LEGO® airplane, break it apart into its single, component pieces and build the same airplane with the original quality and durability.
That's our goal at AmSty, a leading producer of polystyrene. We're using the plastic industry's first truly circular recycling process called PolyUsable™. It allows us to take used polystyrene products like disposable coffee cups and break them down to their base molecular "building blocks."
Those "blocks" are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized, then used to build brand new coffee cups with the same pristine, pure integrity as the originals. And we keep this cycle going with no loss of quality – ever.
That's not happening with the current plastics recycling system. While those in the industry do their best, there's simply no such thing as infinite recycling in the plastics industry today.
When a plastic jug is recycled, for example, it can never be a plastic jug again. Why? Within the system today, technology doesn't allow for breaking down used plastics to the molecular level to be cleaned and sterilized. In other words, instead of breaking down the LEGO® airplane into its original building blocks, it can only be deconstructed to the point where, let's say, the body, two wings and a propeller remain. There's no way to reach the individual pieces to clean them.
That means the resulting material is contaminated and lower quality and can't be used for things like food packaging or medical supplies. Every time that type of material is recycled, it becomes dirtier and degrades even more. We call that "down cycling." Finding new uses is a great first step. But we can do better.
Today, used plastics only have value in very limited niche markets – usually shipped overseas to companies that make products like carpet, park benches and picture frames.
That's one reason only about 10 percent of plastics in the U.S. get recycled. Because today's recycling technology does not restore the original quality, it is not a pathway back to the original, high volume markets. Instead, the lower quality product is constrained to smaller niche markets and the rest is landfilled.
In an economy where "clean" plastics like food packaging play such an important role and where use is increasing, sustainable recycling solutions like PolyUsable™ are key.
With this technology, we've pledged that all products designed for foodservice and food packaging applications will contain 25 percent recycled content by 2030. We continue to reach milestones toward this goal through Regenyx – our joint venture with Agilyx. Regenyx is the first commercial-scale recycling facility realizing this circular recycling innovation.
Regenyx can process up to 10 tons of polystyrene waste per day – 10 tons that aren't going to landfill. We're also working on additional investment in the Regenyx facility and plans to build a new facility using the same technology, co-located with an already existing AmSty site.
Unlike LEGO, we're not toying around. Our long-term vision is that all polystyrene products are infinitely recyclable, so they never need to be landfilled. And we have the same hope for all plastics.
It won't be easy – requiring collaboration with cities and states to create the infrastructure necessary to ensure everyone can participate. But we're committed to getting there one building block at a time.